I was really looking forward to running Snowdonia. Twice voted Britain’s best marathon, its route is described as ‘demanding’ and ‘spectacular’ and I’d heard great things about it from those who’d done it. Very tempting! You have to be quick off the mark if you want to enter though, as it’s so popular it sells out in a couple of hours. I entered last December and was making it my main event of the autumn.
The marathon starts and finishes in the small Welsh town of Llanberis. It’s a beautiful little place beside a lake, with fabulous views of Snowdon itself. However, it’s also a pig of a place to drive to on a Friday afternoon during half term! A journey that should have taken us three hours took five, so it was pitch black by the time we arrived at around 7.30. The race is on Saturday, and number pick up is conveniently open until 11 pm on Friday evening. After a pasta supper in our camper van it was pretty much time for bed. People told me it always rains at this event, but the weather forecast for the next day was cold and dry – perfect! Rain battered on the van roof during the night, but was scheduled to stop by early morning. I really hoped so, as I suddenly realised I’d left my running waterproof at home – schoolgirl error!
Sure enough, Saturday morning (thankfully!) dawned freezing but bright. It had actually snowed on the high ground during the night, and the big mountain was looking spectacular. The marathon has a very civilised start time of 10.30, so there was no need to get up at the crack of dawn for breakfast. The start line is on the road just outside Llanberis and the finish is in the centre of town.
With about 2,500 runners taking part there were enough people around to create a buzz, but not so many that things were too crowded. I’d taken an old fleece to discard at the start (any clothes left there are donated to charity) and was wearing some old gloves I was planning to ditch en route. The wintry conditions were certainly a sharp contrast to my last road marathon, the boiling hot London one in April! Steve waved me off at the start, then set off on his mountain bike to pedal up Snowdon. And people say I’m mad!
The Snowdonia Marathon route is mostly on Tarmac, with just a couple of sections at around 10K and near the end on trail. There are three major climbs in it, at around 2 miles, just before halfway and a proper beast a couple of miles from the end!
Running a marathon is sometimes a strange thing. You usually set off feeling great and start to flag towards the end. On this day, I set off in a great mood, but soon started to feel what I can only describe as ‘rubbish’. My legs felt like they had zero energy; my belly was gurgling; I even had a bit of a headache. “Typical”, I thought, “the one event of the autumn where I want to feel my best and I’m struggling already. This is going to be a long day and I’m already wishing it was over!”. I dragged myself up the first climb, which was about two miles long; a gradual ascent that was pretty runnable really, but I was struggling. Fortunately after that we had a few miles of downhill; in fact, in this section you eventually end up lower down than the start! But I knew we’d have to get all that elevation back, and more besides, in a while. Just before six miles we got to the first trail section, which was great; but I still felt that if a car had drawn up beside me I would have happily climbed into it!
In a desperate attempt to give myself a boost I decided to take my SiS Double Espresso caffeinated gel, which I’d originally intended to save for near the end. Miraculously, about ten minutes later I began to feel loads better! I hadn’t had any coffee that morning as we’d forgotten to pack our cafetière(another schoolgirl error) and I suddenly wondered whether I’m so addicted to coffee I simply can’t function without it! Anyway, I perked up big time and really enjoyed the rest of the race.
Runners are really well supported on the course, with refreshment points every couple of miles. All have water and jelly babies, and in the second half there are points with isotonic drink and High 5 gels. Some also had my current favourite race food, marshmallows. They slip down so easily! The first few miles of the course are traffic-free, but later on the road is shared with vehicles, so you do have to keep your wits about you. Marshals on bikes helped to keep us safe though. I was expecting another huge climb up to the second high point, but the course seemed to undulate rather than give it to you all at once, which was good for me. I was having a great time by now, enjoying the scenery and exchanging words with fellow runners. Then came the dreaded last climb! Initially it wasn’t too bad, but then it kicked up and probably seemed steeper than it actually was on tired legs. Nobody around me seemed to be running, so I didn’t feel too bad about jog/walking my way up it.
At the top we were back onto trail, which undulated for a while; then about the last mile and a half was downhill all the way to the finish! The first part was on trail, which was a little slippery and muddy, so hard for me to let go properly in road shoes, then onto Tarmac as we returned to Llanberis. The road was quite steep, but I was loving it. I still had my ‘disposable’ gloves on, but didn’t want to be wearing them in my finisher photo as they were a bit ratty, so took them off and tossed them to a slightly bemused spectator. As I came to the flat ground in town I suddenly felt twinges of cramp in my calves, but refused to stop and walk at this point. I crossed the finish line feeling elated, as the day had turned out far better than I thought it might four hours previously!
My finish time was 4:45:48 – interestingly, about the same as the flat but hot London! I finished in 1,345th place overall (just over halfway), 284th out of 690 women and 10th in the FV55 category. In the second half of the race I’d moved up over 200 places, which I was quite pleased with. I think participating in quite a few hilly events (mostly Hardmoors) over the last year or so has improved my ability to keep pushing when things get tough.
There’s no medal at Snowdonia; instead you get a coaster made of local slate, which I think is a lovely souvenir. We also received a great t-shirt and drink bottle. The post-race refreshments consisted of tea and biscuits in a room so crowded it was impossible to move, but that’s my only very slight niggle in an otherwise excellent event. Would I do it again? Possibly, but maybe not next year as I’m quite keen to do the Loch Ness Marathon, which is around the same time. And I’d allow more time for the journey there!
Entry for Snowdonia 2019 opens on 1st December. If you want to see what it looks like, there’s an S4C highlights programme online here (with English subtitles available). But I guess it might rain next year!